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Red Wings overnight report: Bertuzzi, Filppula and Stuart, difference-makers

We can talk all we want about Jimmy Howard needing to take a little refresher course on rebound control or the fact that the Red Wings can’t rely on one person to step up and fill the leadership voids left by Brian Rafalski, Kris Draper and Chris Osgood, but of all the players that the Free Press’s Helene St. James has focused upon as potential difference-makers (Jiri Hudler, Niklas Kronwall, Danny Cleary, Jonathan Ericsson, Ian White and Johan Franzen), I’d argue that three players will determine whether the Wings eventually need to acquire assistance at the trade deadline, and they might not be the players you’re thinking of.

In terms of what at least I feel is a necessity for the kind of size and strength up front that Ryane Clowe provided against the Wings over the course of two playoff rounds, Johan Franzen’s ability to both score goals more consistently and display a level of physical and mental engagement on a nightly basis to serve as an effective detriment to physical liberties is very important, but I honestly think that Todd Bertuzzi’s just as important in terms of his post-Ryan Johnson incident ability to more consistently keep the flies off by displaying an equally Franzen-like level of consistency on a night-to-night basis.

Bertuzzi’s neither a heavyweight nor someone who’s really going to post more than 20 goals or 45 points at this stage of his career, but if he can crash and bang a little more regularly on the forecheck and continue to heed Mike Babcock’s advice and go to the net to [tick] people off, then players like Franzen and Cleary can worry a little more about scoring goals than specifically grinding down their opponents, and Jan Mursak can slide into the lineup and provide a little more Patrick Eaves-like grit and grind on the third and fourth lines without having to go outside his game to deliberately play physically (ideally, Mursak would eventually regain the hands he displayed as a junior-aged player), and especially as he’s already a vocal player, Bertuzzi’s already become an outspoken leader.

On defense, there’s no doubt that Jonathan Ericsson has to prove he’s worth his salary, Niklas Kronwall’s ready to step into the #2 defenseman’s role and Ian White can truly find a home in Detroit by posting 35 points and offering a little physical panache while providing assistance on the power play…

But there’s something to be said for witnessing Brad Stuart post another five or ten points without sacrificing his defensive game in the process. When Stuart attempted to press offensively while keeping up with Nicklas Lidstrom—something he could easily accomplish in terms of his skating and passing—his defensive game suffered, and there were a few occasions when he got beat like a rented mule (dragging Lidstrom’s plus-minus down in the process). If Stuart can even hint at fulfilling some of the offensive potential for which he was drafted third overall way back in 1998, adding another five or ten points to the 20 he registered over the course of only 67 games played, that’s gravy, but if he can do so while maintaining his defensive focus, the Wings really can rotate three defensive pairings while not sacrificing any of Kronwall’s potential offense to pair him with Lidstrom.

And at center, even given the progress made by Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader as the team’s interchangeable third and fourth-line centers last season, the Wings can allow Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg to play together more regularly (despite Babcock’s insistence to the contrary, the fact remains that the Eurotwins are at their best when they’re on the same line) if Valtteri Filppula can reign in his streaky scoring and/or lack of confidence in his offensive abilities while firmly establishing himself as a viable second-line center who’s worth the $7 million the Wings have invested in him over the next two seasons (Filppula’s cap hit is only $3 million, but he actually earns $3.5 million).

Without Filppula stepping up, the Wings are actually a little thin up the middle and might need to add a center down the line, and as St. James suggests, Filppula’s only obstacle in terms of fulfilling his potential might very well be himself (and I should mention that I kinda wrote this without reading St. James’ article [whoops!], so there’s going to be some repetition here):

Filppula is a swift skater, he’s great in his own end, and he’s a terrific passer. He’s going to his shot more than he has in the past, though that’s not saying much considering his early aversion to aiming the puck at the net.

The frustrating part about Filppula is that he clearly could be a better player. In five full seasons, he hasn’t topped 40 points. The team bought into his potential in July 2008, signing him to a five-year deal worth $15 million. While his salary-cap hit is $3 million, Filppula made $3.5 million last season, and will make the same each of the last two seasons on his contract.

There’s no question Filppula is versatile. He can be the second-line center when Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg play together, or play wing when they are split. Filppula is a regular on the power play and can be trusted to kill penalties. What he needs to do more of is get to the inside—that’s what goal scorers do.

Filppula seems to have hit a plateau. He had a nice rookie debut in ‘06-07 with 10 goals and 17 points in 73 games, following that with 19 goals and 36 points in 78 games in ‘07-08. He reached 40 points in ‘08-09, and still delivered 35 points in ‘09-10 despite missing 26 games with a broken wrist.

Filppula spent most of this past season centering the second line, often between big wingers Johan Franzen and Todd Bertuzzi, and got to play a larger role when Datsyuk suffered an injury in January. Still, it didn’t lead to the breakout season everyone in the organization has been expecting for a couple of years, one with closer to 60 points than 40.

The better Filppula plays, the more dangerous he is, the more it helps the team and especially Datsyuk and Zetterberg, who draw the best defenders. Filppula is a pretty complete package—skating, hands, smarts—and should be a bigger contributor for the Wings.

Exactly. Just a little more offense and a healthy dose of consistency and the Wings have a second line center who can pretty much play with anyone, and quite potentially allow Abdelkader to reap the benefits of having a Holmstrom or Cleary on his line to boot (if Babcock doesn’t opt to stack Abdelkader, Helm and Eaves on the same line and toss out a fourth line of a veteran forward with Mursak, Miller and/or Emmerton).*


If you missed it on Thursday, the Red Wings shared quite a bit of information about Red Bird III (N812ME) on Thursday, and Olympia Aviation’s senior pilot, Chuck Shipp, told Red Wings TV that the plane can and will make trips to and from the West Coast without refueling…

Which makes this unusually blabby blogger wonder whether Mike Modano may have been asked to mention Red Bird II’s “short legs” for a player recruitment reason. Shipp states that Mr. and Mrs. Ilitch made sure that the aircraft has state-of-the-art electronics (read: WiFi and in-seat LCD displays) and an interior which caters to card-players and impromptu managerial meetings, so there’s no doubt that the Wings are selling the fact that they invest time, money and energy ensuring that their players are treated fantastically well as something of a recruitment tool, and good for them. There’s no doubt that it’s a significant perk to hop onto a team-owned plane and have your every need ready to be catered to even before you’ve boarded the aircraft, and the team definitely spares no expense when it comes to making the team’s extensive travel schedule a little more palatable.


In foreign-language news, Peter Forsberg’s Icebreakers defeated Jonathan Ericsson’s alma mater, Vita Hasten 5-4 in a charity game in Norrkoping, Sweden on Thursday, despite the presences of Ericsson, his brother Jimmie and Niklas Kronwall on Vita Hasten’s roster.

According to Aftonbladet’s Bjorn Forsgren, Henrik Sedin didn’t play with his brother Daniel, but Henrik Zetterberg scored a goal, registered an assist and was named the game’s most valuable player according to Norrkoping’s Tidningar’s Mats Willner, and Zetterberg had this to say after the game (after suggesting that Ericsson’s status as a Vita Hasten fan kept the Icebreakers in the know as to how to exploit his team):

“It’s a good thing there are a couple of months left before our season starts. But I’m looking forward to it; it’ll be fun to play again. I think we’re going to have a great team again this year, and we expect a lot in Detroit. If we don’t get to the final, it’s a fiasco,” said Zetterberg in the locker room.

NT.se also posted a 20-image photo gallery from the game, and while Kronwall told SVT.se that Vita Hasten played a little sloppily, Zetterberg told Expressen’s Gustav Tagstrom that it was fun to play against Kronwall and Ericsson for a change.

Kronwall is holding a charity hockey game of his own today in the Stockholm suburb of Jarfalla today to benefit his youth hockey team, Jarfalla HC.


Back over on this side of the Atlantic in Lake Placid, NY, Wings prospect Teemu Pulkkinen was held off the scoresheet by Team USA’s World Junior evaluation camp team as the U.S. defeated Finland’s WJC evaluation camp team 4-1, but USA Hockey’s blogger suggests that Pulkkinen was held scoreless because Team USA checked the hell out of him:

Forward Teemu Pulkkinen has been the main target offensively for Finland during the power play, but Team USA did a great job of sticking with him and not allowing him to unleash his monster of a shot.

The combined WJC evaluation camp for the U.S., Finland and Sweden ends on Saturday—Finland and Sweden will face off today and the Americans will play Sweden tomorrow.


Also of Red Wings-related note: ESPN “Insider‘s” Grant Sonier ranked each and every one of the NHL’s 30 teams in terms of their prospect depth, but as I’m not a subscriber, those of you who are will have to let me know what Sonier had to say about the Wings;

• This isn’t Wings-related, but it’s interesting, part 1: According to the AP’s Tom Withers, Ohio State and Michigan will play a hockey game at Cleveland’s Progressive Field on January 15, 2011 (fact: Michigan’s travel tips for fans heading to Columbus include not parking a car with Michigan plates on the street and wearing Michigan garb under layers of clothing so you don’t get harassed);

• This isn’t Wings-related, but it’s interesting, part 2: Inside College Hockey’s James V. Dowd also profiled Michigan State University forward Jake Chelios;

• In the, “Uh, yeah” (Lumberg) category, part 1: Sam Fels of the Committed Indian discussed his disdain for everything Red Wings-related and hate for Pavel Datsyuk on Puck Daddy earlier this week, and now he’s telling NBC Chicago how Steve Yzerman shattered his childhood dreams repeatedly and sparked an inferiority complex regarding the evil Wings.

I don’t like the Blackhawks, but I’m not going to write at length about the Dirk Graham-Michel Goulet-Steve Larmer-Eddie Belfour-Gary Suter-Chris Chelios axis of Wings tormenting in the mid 90’s, either;

SI’s Stu Hackel suggested on Thursday that Alex Ovechkin may undergo a Steve Yzerman-like transformation into a more well-rounded player and leader under Bruce Boudreau, and I don’t know how the hell to react to that suggestion;

• If you’re interested, Pravda.sk’s Boris Vanya wrote a seriously in-depth article about Slovak Canadian and former Wing Benny Woite, but if you’ll have to read it on your own;

• Does the fact that Darren McCarty’s tattooed arm made the Toronto Sun’s list of most unappealing athlete tattoos count as news at this time of year? I think it does, regrettably…

*And I don’t know why I’m so talkative this morning. My apologies if it was irksome.

Update: Doug Miller has the scoop on EA Sports’ “NHL Legends” added to NHL 12, and one is Chris Chelios (as a Blackhawk).

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Comments

Bradley97's avatar

No apologies necessary, George, this is a great overnight report. It’s also an outstanding analysis of some players, the team, and the upcoming season. I’m not ready to call you a profit just jet, but I think you’re right on about everything you mentioned/predicted.

Thanks as always!

Posted by Bradley97 on 08/12/11 at 08:36 AM ET

Rdwings28's avatar

When the Wings move to East next year they can sell the Plane to Bluejackets

Posted by Rdwings28 on 08/12/11 at 09:54 AM ET

Sal's avatar

This is the second time I’ve seen a mention of Bert’s “Ryan Johnson” incident. The guy Bert slugged with devastating results was Steve Moore. I imagine Johnson has been slugged more than once in his career, too, and maybe even by Bert, but I don’t think think he’s the guy you mean to be referencing.  Unless you have something else in mind and I’m just missing it?

Posted by Sal from the shadow of the Great Smoky Mountains on 08/12/11 at 09:56 AM ET

Denver Wings's avatar

ESPN’s got Florida #1 in prospects, followed by Edmonton at 2, then Ottawa, Chicago and then, somewhat surprisingly, the Wings at #5.

The price you pay for always finishing near the top of the standings is having to pick late in the draft, but the Red Wings have done a very good job of selecting players who find a way to fill in the necessary roster spots. Riley Sheahan (21st overall, 2010) and Tomas Jurco (35th overall, 2011) both have tons of upside with talent, skating and size. Brendan Smith (27th overall, 2007) has been on the farm and looks poised to be a defender with the big club in the near future. Five more Europeans help make up a good crop of prospects.
Also on the radar: Calle Jarnkrok (51st overall, 2010) and Teemu Pulkkinen (111th overall, 2010).

Total number of top prospects: 13

Posted by Denver Wings on 08/12/11 at 10:24 AM ET

Forlorn in VA's avatar

Sal, I think George is referring to the massive hit Bertuzzi gave Johnson in this clip:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DROIoW6HCn4

Posted by Rdwings28 on 08/12/11 at 07:54 AM ET

I laughed.  I think they’d keep it for the Tigers, though.  And those pesky trips to Florida.

George, I don’t see a button yet!

Posted by Forlorn in VA on 08/12/11 at 10:29 AM ET

Avatar

This is more a belated comment on yesterday’s excellent report on Ian White. White is being looked at as a bit of a consolation prize for the Wings in the free agent market. But I think folks in Michigan are really going to appreciate this guy, and I’m not just saying this because I’m biased. (He’s from Manitoba.) He’s better than a lot of people think, and, really, a more rugged version of Rafalski who might one day be at or near his level. Also, the ex-Maple Leaf factor can’t be discounted. How many former Leaf defensemen have won Cups with the Wings so far? Murphy, Rouse, Macoun. It would be nice to see White add his name to that list.

Posted by manitobaredwingfan on 08/12/11 at 11:49 AM ET

Avatar

George, this report is a good wake up for those of us who are retired and can sleep all day.

The fact is, if the Red Wings are going to have a great season, Filppula will need to be more like the potential force he has shown for the last f seasons.  If he shows some offensive consistency, he will do alright.

Bertuzzi is still an enigma.  When Big Bert shows up, he can literally take over the ice.  More often, though, Ballerina Bert shows up.  Then he skates around in circles, makes showboat passes thant do not work and generally drifts around the offensive zone trying to be invisible.

Oh, in my opinion, Bert got jobbed on the penalty when he hit Johnson.  Johnson cringed and started to do a Claude the turtle move.  He ducked his head right into the shoulder of Big Bert.  The refs called that play based on reputation, not what actually happened and what they saw. 

I want to see Brad Stewart play as a mean as a snake stay at home defenseman.  That is what he did for the first couple of years in Detroit and he was great.  As they ask more of him, his game suffers and the team suffers.

Finally, I have watched Ian White play for several years now.  I have always thought he was an ideal blue-liner for Detroit.  He is right handed.  He can skate.  He can pass.  He has some offensive upside.  He has a bit of a nasty streak.  He is what the Wings needed and he obviously wants to be there as he took a discount price to get to wear the winged wheel.

Doc

Posted by DocF from Reidsville, NC on 08/12/11 at 12:45 PM ET

Chris in Hockey Hell's avatar

“What he needs to do more of is get to the inside—that’s what goal scorers do.”

This to me is the most telling statement on Filppula’s game. I don’t know why, but for some reason I always seem to notice that whenever Val is headmanning the puck, he gains the zone, gets to the halfboards, stops, and turns his back to the play to wait on….something. I don’t know why he seems to always do it. It’s almost as if he’s afraid to get hit.

Posted by Chris in Hockey Hell from Ann Arbor, MI but LIVING in Columbia, TN on 08/12/11 at 01:28 PM ET

Avatar

I don’t know how Mursak is going to get much time in a 4th or 3rd line role. He’s the 13th forward as of right now

I mean, I want to see the kid but right now it doesn’t seem like hes going to be able to get much time

Posted by Giberson from Windsor on 08/12/11 at 01:35 PM ET

CaptainDennisPolonich's avatar

Ugh…36 more days until training camp opens. I hate these long summers

Posted by CaptainDennisPolonich from The Land of Fake Boobs and Real Nuts on 08/12/11 at 03:04 PM ET

MsRedWinger's avatar

George, great job.  I agree that Pav and Z are better together.  I also remember that Mule/Fils/Bert line being the strongest line early in the season last year.  Hope they can all get back to where they were then.

Doc, I totally agree with what you said about Stuie, and if White can play with Lidstrom, allowing Kronner and Stuie to reunite, that would be terrific. 

I also appreciate the comments about White.  Makes me excited to have him on the team.

I’m getting excited about the upcoming season.  Seems like the Wings have great depth and if guys like Mule, Bert and Fils get it in gear, look out!

cool smile

Posted by MsRedWinger from Flori-duh on 08/12/11 at 04:08 PM ET

SYF's avatar

Honestly?

[puts down his Cola Classic]

I’m tired of reading and hearing about Fil’s potential.  I get it:  he’s a great skater, defensively responsible, and has a playmaker’s eye.  Just tired of the supposed breakout season he’s slated to have for the past three years now.  My worthless $0.02.  Enough already.  He’s a man now so push him harder.

RE:  RedBird III.  Awesome.  If it were me, the Wings/Tigers would be flying a Boeing 777-300R.  Crazy amount of space on that plane.

Thanks, George.

Posted by SYF from Zata's Epic Viking Beard on 08/12/11 at 06:14 PM ET

MOWingsfan19's avatar

whenever Val is headmanning the puck, he gains the zone, gets to the halfboards, stops, and turns his back to the play to wait on….something. I don’t know why he seems to always do it. It’s almost as if he’s afraid to get hit.
Posted by Chris in Hockey Hell from COLUMBIA, TENNESSEE on 08/12/11 at 11:28 AM ET

It’s like he’s comminted to playing D or he’s mentally thinking about being able to get back in a hurry instead of thinking like a more natural scoring forward.

Posted by MOWingsfan19 from I really like our team on 08/12/11 at 07:24 PM ET

HockeyTownTodd's avatar

whenever Val is headmanning the puck, he gains the zone, gets to the halfboards, stops, and turns his back to the play to wait on….something. I don’t know why he seems to always do it. It’s almost as if he’s afraid to get hit.
Posted by Chris in Hockey Hell

You can blame that on coaching, especially when it keeps happening over and over, and by more than one player.  The bench boss is insisting they stick with set plays, even though the well rehearsed plays are broken.  Whenever I see it happen, I think of a shortstop standing with a groundball waiting for the second baseman to cover 2nd.

Posted by HockeyTownTodd on 08/12/11 at 09:20 PM ET

Wings_Fan_In_KC's avatar

Sam Fels is an idiotic homer.  I wouldn’t wipe my ass with anything he wrote.

Posted by Wings_Fan_In_KC from ...somewhere southwest of The Motor City... on 08/13/11 at 12:42 PM ET

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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.